Kentucky Derby horse death investigation, explained: Why horses were dying at Churchill Downs during 2023 race week | Sporting News

Kentucky Derby horse death investigation, explained: Why horses were dying at Churchill Downs during 2023 race week | Sporting News

The 2023 Kentucky Derby was marred by the death of 12 horses at Churchill Downs in the days before and after the race, leading to an investigation searching for answers behind the widespread deaths.

Leading up to 2023 race, seven horses died, including two on Derby Day. Five of those horse deaths’ causes were made public. Wild on Ice and Take Charge Briana were both injured on the track and were euthanized. Code of Kings broke his neck in a saddling paddock and euthanized on April 29. Chloe’s Dream was taken off the track in an ambulance after a leg injury on race day and later euthanized, and Freezing Point’s death was announced shortly after he pulled up injured during the Pat Day Mile. 

The first death was Wild on Ice in the week before the Kentucky Derby. The 3-year-old Texas-bred gelding had won three of five races and came into the Kentucky Derby ranked 15th in points standings. On the Tuesday before the weekend, it was also announced that Take Charge Briana, a 3-year-old filly, had been euthanized as well.

It was later reported that one week prior to the Kentucky Derby, Code of Kings flipped three times and was reportedly bleeding from his mouth, leading to the 3-year-old gelding being euthanized, according to the Courier Journal.

Derby Day’s death of Chloe’s Dream occurred after the horse took an awkward step on the first turn of the day’s second race. That led to even more speculation about the track conditions at Churchill Downs. 

But what advanced the Churchill Downs investigation was two other deaths, those of Parents Pride and Chasing Artie, where the cause of death was not immediately known. Following the Kentucky Derby race, another five horses would die over the next month, leading to an investigation by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority. 

MORE: Horses, odds, expert picks & more for 2024 Kentucky Derby

Here’s what you need to know about the 2023 investigation into the deaths of 12 horses at Churchill Downs.

Kentucky Derby horse death investigation

In a statement released before the race, Churchill Downs said it was working with regulators to investigate the deaths of the horses. The statement was released when the only reported deaths were those of Wild on Ice, Take Charge Briana, Parents Pride and Chasing Artie. It said in the release that while the series of deaths was “highly unusual, it is completely unacceptable.”

“We take this very seriously and acknowledge that these troubling incidents are alarming and must be addressed,” Churchill Downs said in the statement. “We feel a tremendous responsibility to our fans, the participants in our sport and the entire industry to be a leader in safety and continue to make significant investments to eliminate risk to our athletes.”

The statement clarified that both Wild on Ice and Take Charge Briana died after injuries while training. Wild on Ice sustained an injury training on dirt while Take Charge Briana was hurt during a turf race. The two horses were both evaluated, and the decision was made for them to be euthanized “for humane reasons.”

However, per the Associated Press, there was no cause of death listed for Parents Pride or Chasing Artie, both of which were trained by Saffie Joseph Jr. Both horses collapsed on the track and died, and Joseph said blood work did not find anything that could immediately be viewed as the cause.

“When you don’t know something, that’s when it worries you the most,” Joseph said, per the AP. “Something is wrong. A lot of thoughts run through your head, but you can drive yourself insane. But I’m very uneasy right now. It’s not something I would wish on anybody.”

Joseph was suspended indefinitely by Churchill Downs following the deaths of Parents Pride and Chasing Artie, according to CNN.

The day after the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs released another statement explaining that the seven horse deaths were a “sobering reminder” of the important in minimizing risk in horse racing.

The statement said there is “more to be done” as Churchill Downs looks into what might have caused the deaths.

“While each incident reported has been unique, it is important to note that there has been no discernible pattern detected in the injuries sustained,” the statement read. “Our track surfaces are closely monitored by industry experts to ensure their integrity. Each horse that participates in racing at Churchill Downs must undergo multiple, comprehensive veterinarian exams and observations to ensure their fitness to race.”

Following the Derby, five more horses died, causing Churchill Downs to suspend its spring meet and work with both the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority. 

What caused the horse deaths at Churchill Downs?

The HISA called an emergency summit, but its investigation did not find an “obvious or specific pattern” of the 12 horse deaths surrounding the 2023 Kentucky Derby. 

The HISA’s report had several safety recommendations, in addition to highlighting the need for maintaining better medical records. The necropsies and toxicology reports did not find banned substances in the 12 horses, and the report also cleared Joseph, who provided comprehensive medical records of his two horses, according to The New York Times.

Churchill Downs announced that it had new safety measures in place for the 2024 Kentucky Derby, which included upgraded equipment to evaluate track cushioning, a new safety management committee, and that all horses race biometric sensors to detect early signs of a potential injury.

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